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Student Success in Online Graduate Education

April 08, 2019 - 2 minute read

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Academic advisors are important to student success and retention in online graduate education. Advisors are the direct link between academic affairs and student affairs. Advisors connect students to the right student services departments, such as learning disability resources or financial aid. For example, when a student has a low GPA or needs to repeat a course, advisors file appeals so students can keep their financial aid funding. Advisors connect students to health or wellness centers if they desire counseling, or to records offices if they require enrollment verification. Research indicates that advisors are the “hub of the wheel,” not an isolated service. Advising, along with orientations and academic support, are three of the most effective strategies to retain students.

Successful Strategies

The School of Education designs advising strategies to lead students to success.

    • Proactive advising
    • Intervention advising
    • Demonstrating familiarity
    • Collaboration with instructors

Proactive advising comprises institution-initiated contact that goes to all students en masse, such as orientation information, instructions about enrollment, or basic touchpoints like emails and phone calls. Intervention advising means intentionally targeted communication to support at-risk students, such as following up on academic warnings or sending academic probation letters. Having the right answer immediately is important when students ask specific questions of advisors, and students feel especially supported when the advisor shows concern for their personal circumstances. Lastly, advisors rely on data from instructors to know when students are at risk, helps inform how best to approach any intervening strategies.


The School of Education also understands and addresses the challenges in advising students who are distanced-based. The large ratios of advisor-to-students are addressed by differentiating the roles each advisor offers and using each person’s strengths to accommodate student needs. For example, an advisor with a keen listening ear will hear student concerns or frustrations and walk students through a solution. Or, an advisor with the most experience or in-depth program knowledge will address detail-oriented questions and solve behind-the-scenes administrative concerns. Advisors recognize the difficulty in building relationships through virtual mediums and develop effective written or video communication to cultivate and enhance relationships with their advisees. All of these strategies enrich the student experience and lead to greater retention and success.

Not only do advisors build relationships with their students, they also build relationships with other departments such as the registrar’s office, bursar’s office, technology office, and others. Interdepartmental collaboration is key when advocating for student needs.

Overall, academic advising is much more than just scheduling courses and registering students for classes, and is perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of a student’s interaction and engagement with a higher education institution. Institutions seeking to improve retention should consider implementing effective advising strategies, while students seeking a successful experience should put faith in a strong relationship and open communication with their academic advisors.

Jill Swisher is the director of graduate advising in the school of education, where she leads a team of academic advisors and has overseen advising for nearly 7,000 graduate students since 2005.

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